Jacques Cousteau, filmmaker, explorer, scientist and much much more, once said that people protect what they love. Whether or not this quote was in the minds of the team behind Chasing Coral, its message is pervasive in this hour and a half long documentary that is equal parts heartbreaking and beautiful.
Coming from a background in advertising, one of the main influences behind Chasing Coral (runner-up for the audience award at Hot Docs 2017), Richard Vevers, knew that coral, a world relatively ignored by the greater population, had an advertising issue. It was not getting the attention it desperately needed and completely deserved. His first attempt to gain that attention – mapping the reefs through the same technology used for Google maps – ended in breathtaking imagery but little success in motivating people.
His second attempt is Chasing Coral, a two-year journey following the widespread bleaching of coral. Bleaching occurs when water temperatures rise beyond the manageable range for coral. In response to this negative stimuli, the coral starves by expelling the parts of itself that it deems to be “not working” resulting in bleaching and ultimately death. The journey may have been two years, but it took only two months to capture the event. Healthy coral gave way to a bleached wasteland in a matter of weeks, all captured by the cameras of the team that were forced by circumstances beyond their control to manually take the time-lapse images themselves everyday for two months.
Chasing Coral could have preached, it could have ranted, it could have thrown out a hundred different facts and figures, but instead the numbers were lightly strewn throughout the documentary to great effect and what took centre stage was – as it should be – the coral. Devastatingly beautiful configurations of all shapes, colours and sizes coupled with haunting images of graveyards where algae covered coral skeletons lingered as overgrown tombstones.
Chasing Coral and its team understood that it had to earn hearts before it could turn heads. The numbers were there for emphasis. Statistics like in the last 30 years we have lost 50% of the earth’s coral or that in 2016 we lost 29% of the Great Barrier Reef due to bleaching. The numbers have their desired impact, but at the heart of Chasing Coral is Zack. While dotted with experts including numerous marine biologists, the deepest connection that the documentary grants is the one with this self-professed coral nerd through whose eyes we see the wonder of this underwater majesty and the abject misery that comes as he watches it die in front of his eyes.
We should all become self-professed coral nerds, because this isn’t just about saving fish – it’s about saving us. When 500 million people depend on the reefs for food and income, losing the majority of our coral in the next 30 years is not an option.
Chasing Coral is a tragedy. So much death and devastation is packed into a short film. However, it does not leave us without hope, because we are intelligent human beings that protect what we love. And we must, this documentary convinces us, love coral.